As I’ve mentioned before, my current project is a fantasy project. It’s currently unnamed, and I’m not going to tell you what it’s about, because I don’t really like discussing my stories while they’re still in-progress. That being said, there’s one thing I’d love to talk about, and that’s worldbuilding.
If you’re a writer or even a gamer, then the term “worldbuilding” is likely one you’re familiar with. Worldbuilding, at its core, references the work that is put into creating the setting for your story. All stories require it, but some more so than others. Fantasy and science fiction tend to require more worldbuilding than other genres.
This project is my first attempt at a fantasy, so it’s also my first attempt at what I consider “true” worldbuilding. This is where you absolutely have to create everything from scratch. If you’re writing a crime novel set in modern-day Chicago, the majority of your world already exists, you just have to figure out how to add the pieces into your story. With a fantasy, everything is brand new and exciting and terrifying, because it’s up to you to make it all up. Here are some of the building blocks of worldbuilding, and how I used them to create the setting for my own project:
What does your land look like? What’s the terrain, the temperature, the atmosphere? I really struggled with this. Drawing my maps was one of the first things I did when I started this project, because I felt like I couldn’t fully plot my story without some physical reference. I hand drew them, with pencil, and I did a lot of erasing. Seriously, a lot of erasing. But, when I was done, I had the physical boundaries of my kingdom, and a murky idea of what lay beyond the borders. I had mountains, and rivers, and several cities marked that I wanted to use later. I also made a secondary map of my capital city. I don’t have much action set there yet, but it helped me to cement my ideas of the governing structure as well.
Is your land a kingdom? An empire? A democracy? Theocracy? Does it have one ruler or some version of a Congress or Parliament? What laws do they have? How are those laws enforced and punished? Are your rulers liked by the people, or are the people oppressed? How does your system of government affect what happens in your story? My kingdom is a fledgling kingdom, and has only had a king for a couple of decades. Because of this, there’s still division in the land, and the people lack a sense of unity.
How do your people live? Are there defined economic classes? What kinds of jobs do people have? How do they interact with one another? What values do they hold? Are they educated? Do people from different cities/classes/walks of life get along, or is there tension? My protagonist is from a simple village. There are only a couple hundred people living there, and most are farmers, craftsmen, or trappers. Despite that, every child in the kingdom is educated to at least a basic level. I couldn’t bring myself to create a world where most people don’t know how to read. It bugs me, so I decided that my society would value literacy.
Rules of Magic
If you’re writing a fantasy, chances are you’re incorporating magic. It’s one of the core elements of what makes a fantasy. But magic has to follow rules. They can be whatever you want, but they have to be consistent and they have to make sense. Can everyone use magic, or just certain practitioners? How much magic can they use at once? Is the use of magic regulated by the government? Do the common people fear it, or is it well-established? The magic in my story isn’t exactly magic. It’s more of an extra sense that people can be trained to tap into. But anyone can do it, if they take the time to learn.
This list is by no means exhaustive, it’s just the topics that I focused on intently while doing my own worldbuilding. They create a foundation upon which to begin building your story. You can have the greatest story ever told, but if your world doesn’t make sense then readers simply aren’t going to connect with it. I won’t go into them now, but here is a great article on the 7 Deadly Sins of Worldbuilding. They aren’t things you automatically think of, but they can cause your story to utterly collapse in on itself.
I’d love to hear your thoughts and your own worldbuilding experiences in the comments. Also, sign up for an email subscription to get post notifications directly to your email.